In signs of a thaw after the chill in India-US ties following the Devyani Khobragade incident last December, the plush American Embassy club, located within the US mission in Chanakyapuri, is back in business. The club faced threat of closure after New Delhi questioned membership to “non-diplomats”.
Sources said the US embassy has now “pruned” the club’s membership to include only US diplomats and their families. Earlier, the club was open to all American passport-holders. According to sources, the Indian and American officials agreed on this “compromise” following efforts from both sides to bring the relationship “back on track”.
Run by the American Community Support Association, the club — the hub of American expatriate life in the capital — was operating on a very small scale for the last few months. It has now sprung back to life.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of this development last week, when he was here to hold bilateral talks with External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj — the first high level political engagement since the Khobragade episode. The club has an “Out of India restaurant”, “Delhi Diner snack bar”, “The Great Escape bar”, “Windward Cafe poolside bar” and a cafeteria. The facilities include a gymnasium, swimming pool, bowling alleys, tennis court, salon, gift shop and DVD rental store.
New Delhi’s reasoning was that while these facilities are exempted from Indian taxes and duties, since they are covered under privileges granted to American diplomats, they were also being used by non-diplomats. The club’s members included US citizens from various walks of life, including corporates, academicians and mediapersons.
These members also had access to the commissary in the US embassy, where they could buy duty-free food and beverages. Each member was entitiled to a weekly liquor ration of a bottle of hard liquor, two bottles of wine (standard size) and 12 cans of beer. New Delhi has now forced the US embassy to shut this facility for non-diplomats.
However, diplomats from other countries based in Delhi, who are also members of the club, can still avail the benefits. But while they could earlier pool in their share of duty-free alcohol for distribution at the US embassy’s commissary, that has now stopped. Each country’s embassy is now entitled to duty-free products from its own commissary only.